The area around Forward Operating Base (FOB) Arnhem has seen continual fighting over the last 12 months and until recently was a Taliban stronghold. That was, until a new type of Warrior arrived in the neighbourhood, and one that is giving local villagers the confidence to come home.
Right Flank 1st Battalion Scots Guards, an armoured infantry company commanded by Major Chris Bell is the first unit in Afghanistan to be using the Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicles on a major deployment.
The Guards have been at FOB Arnhem, the front line of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) operations against the Taliban in southern Helmand province, since early September. The base was built in August and overlooks an agricultural area several kilometres wide known as the 'green zone'. Arnhem has unfettered views into the area within which the Taliban had been operating at will.
But the Taliban have left the area after initial incursions by ISAF into the zone were followed up time and time again, culminating in Op PALK WAHEL which saw the Taliban squeezed between 2 battle groups and forced out. Right Flank played a major part providing mobility and fire support to both battle groups.
FOB Arnhem was the first in a series of bases to be built along the zone providing an enduring presence and the security required to enable the Afghan farmers to return to their compounds with their families.
The locals are also beginning to respond to the continual presence of troops by providing "tit bits" of intelligence. Bombardier Steven Renwick describes being told by one local which side of a track to patrol on to avoid Taliban mines.
But the most significant development, backing up these successes, according to the Scots Guards has been the introduction of the Warrior Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Major Chris Bell explains the Warriors' role in recent operations:
"It brings fire power, mobility and protection for those who are in it. We are able to provide fire support in places where it is needed, particularly for dismounted troops going into dangerous situations."
Guardsman Brown summarises the same capability: "Basically since we arrived the Warriors have given the Taliban a pasting. We haven't seen much of them since."
Troops leave FOB Arnhem in the Warrior vehicles to move to their objective area, this means the company has a far greater effective footprint than a non-mechanised unit. Although the majority of the work is completed on foot, moving through the network of compounds in and around the green zone, looking for signs of Taliban activity and potential booby traps or Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), the Warriors provide an 'overwatch.'
They use their optical and thermal sights to scan the horizon, ready at immediate notice to provide covering fire in case of an incident. Their enduring presence is a comfort to the soldiers on the ground who are more than aware of the Warriors' impressive firepower. Occasionally the dismounts, as the patrolling soldiers are referred to, and Warrior rendezvous. Together they then dash across areas of open ground to the next series of compounds and the process begins again.
Getting rid of unexploded ordinance is one part of making the area safe for civilians to move back into the area. Major Chris Bell adds:
"I think it's a difficult job and I think the key is even when things get militarily intense, we must remember we are in a counter insurgency environment and that the root to victory lies in the minds of the people of Afghanistan and whether they support our efforts."
To assist in this aim the daily patrols are accompanied by Development and Influence Teams (DIT) commanded by Captain Michael Bedixen of the Danish Royal Life Guards:
"Our main task is to go out and integrate with the locals in the area... get a feel on the situation, identify future projects that we could initiate... building schools, bridges, roads...try to get society up again."
The patrols encounter several families of farmers returning to the area. Captain Michael Bendixen has interviewed some of the elders and discovered that it is the first time some have encountered ISAF troops, having fled from the area four years before. Details of the local ISAF development team and how to claim compensation or request aid are left for the newly returned villagers.
On a recent patrol, while the DIT conducted their business, the soldiers chatted and played with the children, giving them gifts of ration pack boiled sweets and biscuits, which were secreted away for later, it is still Ramadan.
Ever vigilant, the Warrior vehicles sit passively in the background watching and protecting her cargo of dismounted personnel and sending a clear message to any Taliban who happen to be in the area. They are here to stay!
But despite the vehicle's success, the soldiers are not complacent. They continue the relentless task of watching over the zone, patrolling day and night to ensure that the Taliban do not have the freedom to manoeuvre or threaten the signs of recovery in local villages over the last weeks.